The Smartt View…Hope for Middle School Girls

girl at school
Some things never change. I was sitting in front of our local middle school recently and observed clusters of kids in every size and description. Some looked confident. Others looked scared. One young girl stands out in my mind…because she looked like me. I wanted to run up to this young lady and hug her and never let go. I wanted to tell her to hang in there and not give up. I wanted to remind her that this is just middle school. That’s all it is. Nothing more.

As I observed this young lady, it was 1976 all over again and I was in 8th grade. We had just moved from a small Kentucky town to a large school in Texas. I was a tall, strangely disproportioned, insecure 13-year-old. That’s the nice way of saying it. Just thinking about being 13 makes me want to see a therapist and eat a doughnut. For all you teenage girls out there, I’m sending you a hug…and a message.

The only thing that saved my life in eighth grade was joining the Jr. High Speech Club. Mrs. Harpool single-handedly saved my disproportioned and dysfunctional life that year. Mrs. Harpool didn’t see a tall, insecure, strange-looking eighth grader. She saw someone else entirely.

She pulled me aside one day before a speech competition and said, “Lisa, stand tall. You have a gift. You have presence. You can do this.” Just writing that makes me want to cry. You see, the other eighth graders saw someone completely different. I stuck out like a sore thumb.

When I look back on eighth grade, there’s a strange realization that hits me. I was succeeding in speech and drama competitions and doing well in academics. But it wasn’t enough. I would have GLADLY traded all of it…just to be beautiful for one day. I didn’t want to be a success in speech or academics. I wanted to be beautiful and popular. I wanted to be liked by boys and respected by the other girls. I wanted to be a trendsetter and a “somebody.” Everyone said that middle school trauma was “character building.” I didn’t want character. I wanted a boyfriend.

I never succeeded in the “middle school world.” It wasn’t my destiny. I never went to a dance. No boys ever called. The girls managed to set their own trends, without my input. I know there are girls out there who are having the same experience in middle school right now. Lean in close…and listen carefully. Take my hand. Someday it won’t matter. At all. I promise.

This column wouldn’t be complete without a word to those who are on the middle school “inside track.” If you’ve managed to steer clear of the “ugly stage” and people consider you a “trend setter,” you have an opportunity to do something really valuable today. You see, there’s a girl, probably in one of your classes or in your neighborhood. You need to pay attention. This girl has something valuable to contribute to your life. She can teach you things and bring a ray of diversity to your life. If you ignore her, middle school won’t be a time of “character building” for you…and you’ll have to go through “character building” later on in life…when I PROMISE it will be more painful. If you alienate people or treat them poorly, you’ll go through an “ugly stage” that is far more destructive and harder to shed.

As for the tall and insecure girl who was an 8th grader in 1976, everything turned out remarkably well. She dated very little…and married a prince. She was never in the spotlight…and learned to love people who leaned against the wall. The world never considered her beautiful…and she learned the precious art of conversation. She was never a trendsetter…and she learned to look at eternity. If she had to go back to eighth grade, it might be tempting to try to change the way history unfolded. But looking back, she wouldn’t change a thing.